Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Cities are ephemeral collectives of the best and worst of man, housing homages to civilization in our great temples of art and culture and barely housing the homeless lying on the sidewalks. Cities are places of contradiction and tension as much as places of change and choice."
From the January 28th Philadelphia Daily News article called "Saving the City's Historic Soul"
To read the entire article, click here.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Completing the RFP required students to use finance, marketing and planning skills, create models of their plans, deal with conflicting political and social agendas, and present their proposal to the Yorktown City Council, a group of Colorado real estate professionals who volunteered to choose a winning project.
For the entire article, click here.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Urban Renewal programs which sought to rid American cities of blight often times created more blight by displacing thousands of city residents, expedited white flight into the suburbs, created the modern housing project, and created “hyper-ghettos” that isolated the poor and disconnected them from jobs. All of these factors led to the poverty, despair and disenfranchisement found in the crumbling neighborhoods of the South Bronx and other inner-city ghettos that helped create the culture and music of Hip Hop. Hip Hop was born in the 1970’s after the death and failures of President Lyndon Johnson’s, War on Poverty, the Civil Rights era and lastly from the programs that created the modern day ghetto, Urban Renewal.
To give some background of how Urban Renewal programs started, we have to look back to what caused the Federal Government to initiate “blight removal” aka Urban Renewal. Many American cities before World War II, were major Industrial hubs which were defined by major industry and workforce housing for factory workers. During World War II, which was America’s industrial peak, hundreds of thousands southern Blacks migrated to northern cities to find work in factories. While some were fortunate and were able to find work, many did not and still faced discrimination. Without jobs, many southern blacks were forced into existing segregated black neighborhoods which quickly became overcrowded. When soldiers returned back home, the over crowdedness in cities became more dire and the effects of America’s largest baby boom were beginning to be felt.
While many black neighborhoods were often in distress at the time when urban renewals programs began in the 1940’s, not all black inner city neighborhoods were slums. During Urban Renewal many middle class black neighborhoods were targeted for city civic projects or highway construction through their neighborhoods for the supposed greater good of the city. The targeting of black neighborhoods for highways created a two folded problem for cities, the first was that it destroyed viable neighborhoods and the second is that highways allowed whites to funnel out into the suburbs (which blacks were excluded from) and still easily connect back to city’s downtown without having to interact with inner city.
While some neighborhoods were cleared for highways other neighborhoods were cleared for the construction of public housing and some were rehabbed for wealthy neighborhoods (Society Hill in Philadelphia). The clearing of neighborhoods for urban renewal often times gave very little acknowledgement toe the displacement of thousands of people whose homes were being destroyed. The displaced residents of urban renewal were forced to move into what they could afford which were adjoining distressed poor neighborhoods which often times sank further into poverty.
Black families that had the capital to move, sought houses outside the black community which sadly triggered the irrational fears of the white community (fueled by real estate developers) that blacks moving in would quickly turn their neighborhoods into slums. Whites afraid of lower property values as well as other fears fled their neighborhoods if not the city. On top of this White G.I.’s returning from World War II were often given generous FHA loans to houses away from blighted cities, however black soldiers were often denied FHA loans. This domino effect led to quick disinvestments of the city’s tax base and a sudden shift in the socio-economic and demographic make-up of the city.
To rid cities of outdated slum housing, city planners sought to construct clean, well-run public housing high-rises with modern amenities in replace of existing slums. (Note: A previous post called, Great Planning Documentaries, included a film “A Place to Live” which covered the slum clearance of a North Philadelphia neighborhood for the infamous and later dangerous Housing project known as The Richard Allen Projects, which Bill Cosby grew up in and were the inspiration fro the cartoon series, Fat Albert.) Unfortunately, the construction of public housing ultimately caused more problems then it aimed to solve.
One of the many problems that public housing caused during the urban renewal era was compacting highly dense impoverished populations in poverty. Housing projects lacked access to jobs in their own neighborhoods and continued a downward spiral with the economic opportunity or any type of economic advancement within their community. This downward spiral into further poverty allowed public housing projects to become a magnet to crime and other social ills that plague cities. Ultimately the idea of housing the poor in isolated housing project towers was viewed as a mistake as most of the housing projects across the nation were tore down in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Although, many housing project were tore down in the 1990’s, by the early 1970’s the damage that these public housing projects had caused by concentrating poverty as economic investment had funneled out of the city, leaving the poor more and more isolated had already been done. In the early 1970’s the funding to many urban renewal projects was being cut off which included the federal funding to cities to help maintain various city renewal projects including public housing. As maintenance for public housing all but ceased, public housing projects quickly deteriorated and repelled any economic development which caused even more blight to surrounding neighborhoods.
By the mid 1970s, desegregation was beginning to take off that allowed more middle class blacks to move away from blighted neighborhoods which further led to the isolation of blacks in housing projects and run-down blocks. Property owners in these neighborhoods, who could not find anyone to buy their abandoned or half vacant properties, often set arson to their buildings so that they could collect on some money through insurance. These acts of arson left an even more scarring image to inner-cities, especially major cities in the east. In the South Bronx, the undisputed birth place of Hip Hop it is estimated that the Bronx borough lost 40% of its housing stock by the late 1970’s. During his 1980 Presidential campaign, then California Governor made a campaign stop in the Bronx and had remarked that the Bronx looked like London after the Blitz in World War II.
All of the conditions that were either caused or triggered by Urban Renewal programs had laid down the many problems of today’s modern inner-city. While many of today’s problems would have existed without Urban Renewal, there is no doubt that these blight removal programs exacerbated the problem.
These impoverished conditions left the children growing up in these neighborhoods with no voice and no outlets. The economic conditions of these kids made them improvise to let their expressions be heard. While they had no instruments, local Dee Jay’s would take the breakbeat of soul records and make a sampled sound that was uniquely their own. Kids who did not have a dance floor would often use pieces of cardboard boxes and use that as their dance floor as they danced to the breakbeat. These breakbeat dancers would later be called B-Boys. As the B-Boys danced, the Dj would make simple rhymes about who he was, how nice is skills were and where he was from. This eventually laid the basis to what we know as rapping today. The kids, who grew up in these neighborhoods that looked like war zones, could not afford art utensils so they made their world a canvas. The kids, known as graffiti bombers would “bomb” walls, trains or any other visible piece of infrastructure and spray-paint their names as tags on buildings to let the world know who they were…or more importantly let the world know they exist. Eventually graffiti bombing took off into intricate designs of their own style which became the neighborhood’s public art.
Once you combine the Dj, the B-Boys, the rappers, and the graffiti bombers you have all the major elements of hip hop. An art form and culture that is uniquely American and was uniquely born out of ghettos of America’s inner-cities that were shaped by the failures of Urban Renewal programs.
All of these conditions can be illustrated in Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s song, The Message. Filmed in the Bronx, the music video was the first early hits in Hip Hop and was the first to talk about the social conditions of the ghetto that created their art.
Excerpts from the song:
Broken glass everywhere
People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care
I can't take the smell, I can't take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with the baseball bat
I tried to get away, but I couldn't get far
Cause a man with a tow-truck repossessed my car
A child is born with no state of mind
Blind to the ways of mankind
God is smiling on you but he's frowning too
Because only God knows what you’ll go through
You’ll grow in the ghetto, living second rate
And your eyes will sing a song of deep hate
The places you’re playin’, where you stay
Looks like one great big alley way...
Friday, January 25, 2008
Here's an excerpt:
"America now has some 1,100 enclosed shopping malls, according to the International Council of Shopping Centres. Clones have appeared from Chennai to Martinique. Yet the mall's story is far from triumphal. Invented by a European socialist who hated cars and came to deride his own creation, it has a murky future. While malls continue to multiply outside America, they are gradually dying in the country that pioneered them."
Ironically the creator of the modern American mall had designed malls to replicate European shopping and civic districts where the community whould shop, eat and discuss the issues of the day. To read the entire article, click here.
Closer to home in Baltimore, many area malls have died recently and have been reconverted into "Avenues" where chain retail stores now face out onto an internal street with angled parking, mimicking a small town's main street. Often times these "Avenues" that are beautifully landscaped have internal roads that lead back to an expressway and are surrounded by a sea of parking. Check out "The Avenue at White Marsh" and "The Hunt Valley Town Centre"
Thursday, January 24, 2008
The Project Vision Statement from the State Center's website cites:
"The State Center redevelopment offers the rare chance to build on the tremendous economic power of the State's office presence in Baltimore and knit together existing transit, cultural, institutional, university and neighborhood assets.
The ultimate vision for the State Center is a diverse, inclusive, mixed-use income community that promotes public transportation, maximizes the use and interest in public open spaces and provides for an active, walkable street environment..."
The website cites that the ultimate goal is to connect and integrate the State's office complex with the surrounding neighborhoods and in the process become on of the City's most attractive arts, entertainment, retail and residential districts.
The State Center will be a huge project for revamping downtown Baltimore's northwest edge as well as providing a boost to the culture rich neighborhoods of Mt. Vernon and Bolton Hill and to the MLK transit corridor. But what will this redevelopment project mean for the adjacent McCulloh Homes community? Will the pressure of redevelopment ultimately threaten their community to be redeveloped as market-priced Housing?
What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment, especially for those who were able to attend the January 23rd public meeting.
For more Information, click here.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
When a city transit agency only has a small percentage of its revenue coming from fares generated, the city transit agency has to depend on other sources, such as neighboring suburban counties, to help fund their services. Often times the source that provides the majority of the funding dictates the policy recommendations for that transit agency.
When non-transit planners are making transit agency decisions over regional transit needs, they often times they will put the needs of their constituents over the transit needs of the whole region. So if suburban counties are providing major funding to a city transit agency, they are more likely to push for transit lines (such as light rail or heavy rail) that connect suburban communities to downtown while providing little connection back to the existing transit system or the larger city as a whole.
Situations like these often lead to bad transit planning which often is reflected in transit ridership numbers. The mistakes of bad transit planning, such as spending billions on light rail systems that benefit the few and not the whole has wasted funding, time and energy that could have been used to upgrade the existing system. Such costly mistakes has allowed existing transit systems to deteriorate while making transit agencies maintain suburban costly suburban commuter lines for suburbanites who still preferred to commute by car.
So what is your opinion? Do you live in a metropolitan region where suburban counties dictate transit planning? If you are not sure, ask yourself whether or not your metropolitan region has a well running suburban commuter line system and a deteriorating city transit system.
Unfortunately, big box stores have been reluctant to say the least to open stores within the inner-city. While many cite factors such as the inner city being not the right clientele or crime, others have simply stated inner city neighborhoods do not have the floor space and acreage available to meet their standard building footprints.
Recently, many big box retail chains have started to invest in cities and have modified their typical building size with smaller square footage, multiple floors and reduced parking or parking garages. The question we pose with this new trend is - Do big box stores hurt cities?
Cities by nature combine several land uses on a single property and will have smaller retail stores competing with each other which often lowers prices and provides better services to customers. Big box stores which were created under the Euclidean zoning of the suburbs do just the opposite of what urban retail is tailored for.
We all know that big box retail has a tendency to make local stores go out of business but what is your opinion of big box stores when they go into depressed markets that have very limited retail? Will the big box store create a market where only large retail can survive or do you believe that a big box store can be a generator of economic growth in the inner city?
What are your thoughts?
Monday, January 21, 2008
All across America's inner-cities are streets named after the great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of these streets that bear Dr. King's name are found within the commercial corridors of historically black neighborhoods.
Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard in San Antonio
Martin Luther King Street in New Orleans
Matin Luther King Jr Boulevard in Harlem
Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard in St. Louis
After looking at the interactive map, I think the EPA would have something to say about the Dump and recycling center being right next to Springfield Lake.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
We knew that in the U.S., $1 million will no longer buy estate homes and mansions as it did in years past, with smaller coastal cities like Annapolis, Maryland that are selling million dollar rowhouses. However, overseas with the American dollar being weak, $1 million buys less than ever.
$1M Rowhouse in San Fransico, Califronia
$1M Flat in Paris, France
$1M in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Recreation Pier in Fells point maybe recognized to many outside of Baltimore as the police station in NBC's hit show, "Homicide: Life on the Street," but to Baltimoreans, the pier was a historic landmark that was anchor not only to Fells Point but to the waterfront as well.
Today the city of Baltimore is preparing to sell the pier and it's historic structure to developers who will develop the property into a new W Hotel and restaurant. The developers will also make costly repairs to the pier which is deteriorating and poses a risk to the foundation of this historic structure. The proposed hotel will have 130 rooms and a restaurant on the top floor over looking harbor.
For more info on the Recreation Pier and Fells Point, click here.
Motoda’s view of the future at first seems nihilistic, but the proliferation of plant life in the ruined streets seems to suggest that there are other ways for the plant to survive even after our great cities have fallen.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Friday, January 11, 2008
Thursday, January 10, 2008
The Red Avenue
Which one is your favorite painting?
- Barack Obama
For the rest of the article, click here.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Though the same bill has faced opposition from neighborhood groups in the past, Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration is under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice to loosen the city's zoning laws - which critics charge are used to limit the centers - or face a federal lawsuit.
Click here for the entire article.
Do you agree with the city's stance of limiting the number of drug treatment center.
Would you be comfortable having a drug treatment center in your neighborhood even if for the long run the treatment centers would ultimately help improve society?
In a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit intended to stem foreclosures in Baltimore, Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration is suing a leading mortgage provider for what the city says has been a pattern of predatory lending in black neighborhoods.
The lawsuit, which the Dixon administration plans to file today in U.S. District Court, alleges that California-based Wells Fargo Bank sold higher-interest subprime mortgages to blacks more frequently than to whites and that the practice, known as reverse redlining, violates federal housing law.
Though Baltimore's lawsuit does not estimate the financial cost of the foreclosure crisis to the city, the city claims that is has lost tens of millions of dollars - in unrealized property tax revenue, added police and fire protection and legal costs - because of homes abandoned after foreclosure.
What are your thoughts?
Sunday, January 6, 2008
With a dozen or so developments being proposed on the water, the Baltimore Harbor is seeing a second renaissance.
Location: 414 Light Street at Conway St. (Inner Harbor)
Developer: ARC Wheeler Group
Total Investment: $300 million
Completion Date: N/A
Uses: 285 condo units, 192-room hotel, ground and second level retail, grocery store, resturants
Water Tower - 32 stories
Location: 414 Water Street (City Center)
Developer: LH Water Toner, LLC
Total Investment: $65 million
Completion Date: 2007
Uses: 312 condo units, 6000sq ground level retail, 10-story above ground parking
Status: Under Construction